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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "A tale...of jealousy, calcified minds, vested interests.", 17 Oct. 2005
This review is from: Emperor Of Scent: A Story Of Perfume, Obsession, And The Last Mystery Of The Senses (Hardcover)
Telling the story of Luca Turin, a French scientist who, in the mid-1990s, developed a revolutionary new theory about how we smell, Chandler Burr focuses on the evolution of the theory and why it has not led to a Nobel Prize. Turin, a controversial researcher, posited (and believes he proved) that scent is not determined by the body's ability to recognize the shape of molecules, the accepted explanation of smell. Instead, he believes that vibrations of electrons are recognized by a kind of "spectroscope" in our noses--that atoms with the same vibrations have the same smell even when they come from different elements.
Burr details Turin's experiments and his successful (he believes) searches for proof through the late 1990s. But he also describes Turin's unsuccessful attempts to be published in prestigious scientific magazines, his battles royal with other researchers, some of whom have rejected his ideas without reading his papers, and his disappointments with the "Big Boys," the world's seven biggest makers of perfumes, who would benefit directly if Turin were correct. Ultimately, Burr concludes that the scientific community and its attitudes toward Turin reflect their "scientific corruption, corruption in the most mundane and systemic [sense]."
For whatever reasons, Burr is unsuccessful in getting opposing scientists to discuss Turin's vibration theory in relation to their belief in a molecule's shape as a determinant of smell, and he ultimately presents a book that is biased in favor of Turin's work. By the end of the book, Burr has clearly abandoned any sense of impartiality and become a supporter of Turin. He inserts an Author's Note three-quarters of the way into the book to justify his inability to present an alternative viewpoint, concluding that scientific rejection of Turin's theory is the result of "vested self-interest and bad science."
Turin is clearly a difficult man, however, and his attitudes, reflected in humorous and sarcastic comments about other scientists and their ideas, may well have contributed to his lack of acceptance. Though one of his supporters praises him for being the first person to apply quantum mechanics to a physical problem, he also indicates that Turin's biggest flaw is his impatience. (In fact, Turin has already abandoned this work, moving on to a new project studying energy storage in cells.) Fascinating, though complex in its discussions of biology, chemistry, and physics, the book is also fun to read--the story of a maverick who had a great idea which no one takes seriously, at least not yet. Mary Whipple
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